Why Aren't More Women Into Bicycling?
In 2009, just 24 percent of all bicycle trips in the U.S. were taken by women, and that number has grown only incrementally since. So why don't more women ride? The answers are actually fairly straightforward. According to variety of studies, such as one done by the Journal of Public Health Policy and another by researchers at Rutgers University (PDF), women are typically more concerned for their personal safety on a bike than men are. "Women are especially worried about having a safe place to ride," agrees Kate Powlison, research analyst and communications coordinator for the advocacy organization Bikes Belong. "For instance, the 1 percent of the population who [say they] will ride a bike anywhere, no matter the conditions, is overwhelmingly male — about 80 percent."
Other factors have more to do with women's often usual role and responsibilities in American society, says Carolyn Szczepanski, director of communications for the League of American Bicyclists. "Generally speaking, women are more responsible for child care in the U.S. And they are more responsible for getting their kids from place to place," explains Szczepanski, specifically addressing the smaller number of women bike commuters. "That means they have to deal with more 'trip chaining,' where they go from one place to another to another, running errands. In turn they have to consider how they are going to carry whatever shopping items they may have picked up, or transport their children." That's often not possible on a bike.
Szczepanski adds that there is also often a potentially off-putting stereotype of who a cyclist is — typically someone who races around in spandex. "Fortunately, that is starting to change, so now we see more people getting interested in cycling across the board." To keep this momentum rolling — and encourage more women to ride bikes — organizations such as Bikes Belong and the League of American Bicyclists are taking a proactive approach, launching programs such as the Green Lane Project, which helps build protected bike lanes in U.S. communities. "These types of facilities are proven to attract more women to bicycling," explains Powlison, herself a passionate cyclist who was part of a group of women that rode all 21 stages of last year's Tour de France. "The Green Lane Project launched this past May in Austin, Chicago, Memphis, San Francisco, Portland, and Washington, D.C. We were inspired by bike-friendly countries like the Netherlands, and are bringing their lessons and designs over to the U.S."
These Green Lanes, some of which are actually painted green, are areas protected from motor vehicles by curbs, planters, posts, or parked cars. The lanes are carefully engineered with rigorous attention to safety, efficiency, and ease of travel for all street users. "Bike facilities such as green lanes and bike boulevards make bicycling feel safer and less stressful, and that is a big way to get more women — and more people in general — riding bikes," says Powlison. "In bike-friendly countries like the Netherlands and Denmark, where bicycling is very safe and pleasant, you see an equal number of men and women riding, as well as the world's highest cycling levels overall."
Meanwhile, the League of American Bicyclists is continuing to refine its Women Bike program, whose mission is "Empowering more women to bicycle and become engaged in the diverse leadership opportunities of the bicycle movement." One of the success stories Szczepanski points to is CycloFemme, an online resource that organizes an annual Global Women's Cycling Day that "unites riders, regardless of gender, age, ethnicity or bicycle preference to share in the joy of cycling." In its first year 163 rides in 14 different countries registered to show their support for the movement; next year's event is slated for May 12, 2013.
CycloFemme also just launched a pledge campaign that asks people to sign a document stating that they promise to inspire one more woman to ride a bike. "It's a great reminder that creating more cyclists is sometimes just as easy as getting your sister, mother, or neighbor to come along for a ride," explains CycloFemme founder Sarai Snyder. "With this pledge we hope to double participation for this year's CycloFemme ride."
Snyder also runs a website called GirlBikeLove, a clearinghouse of women-specific information, including personal experiences, technical information, and gear reviews with a focus on what women cyclists want. "We aspire to be the hub and soul of women's cycling, giving women a global online community to connect to around cycling," adds Snyder. "By bringing a community of women together to ride with and learn from, we will have a louder, more unified voice for women's cycling."
Are you a female cyclist? How did you develop your passion for biking? Would you encourage other women to join you, or do you already?
— Jason Sumner, Bicycling Reporter
An avid cyclist, Jason has been writing about two-wheeled pursuits of all kinds since 2000. He’s covered the Tour de France, two Olympic Games, and numerous international cycling events. He’s also thrown himself into the fray from time to time, penning first-person accounts of adventures in British Columbia, Costa Rica, Peru, and Brazil, among others.
Photos courtesy of the Green Lane Project and CycloFemme